Peak(s):  Mt. Wilson  -  14,246 feet
Date Posted:  03/19/2008
Modified:  03/27/2008
Date Climbed:   03/10/2008
Author:  sgladbach
 Final trip of Winter 2008, Part I : Mt Wilson  

Final trip of Winter 2008, Part I
Mount Wilson Winter Ascent
Hike in: 3/9/08
Summit: 3/10/08
17 miles / 5800'

I'm still trying to pick off peaks along the way toward my "14ers in Calendar Winter" goal. Patience is definitely the most homely, though reliable, of the virtues (Charity: now there's a girl who can shake it!). The last two years I have taken leave for one of the final weeks of winter and hoped that weather and avy conditions would cooperate. Taking off the week of Colorado state educational testing causes the least disruption for my students; I am pretty much locked in to the second to last week of winter each year. Last year I only managed Harvard and Columbia for the entire week; this year I was hoping for more.

Firsttracks (Ryan) and I had been conversing for a couple months. He requested the same week off work. Ken Nolan said he'd be interested in the weekend portion of the trip if conditions cooperated. We plotted about all the different options we might link together. Shortly before D-day, when the week's avy trends and weather outlook were more discernable, we'd make a final decision. Our spirits fell as, day-by-day, the forecasts deteriorated during the week preceding our trip. We spoke Thursday night and we agreed the future was bleak.

Ryan had also been watching the California forecast and he tried to sell me on the idea of buying airline tickets for Saturday morning to attempt Shasta. He thought we could return by Tuesday and save a half-week's leave for a time that offered more promise. Ken thought if we could leave Friday or super-early Saturday, there might be a chance to catch North Apostle before the weather hit (success!: see his 14erworld TR). Unfortunately, I was locked into my Sunday-morning-start timeframe since my parents were coming out from Kansas to watch my kids for the week and I didn't have the extra cash for a last minute plane ticket (even though Ryan said he'd found a good deal). I planned to stay in Colorado and at least get in a camping trip.

Now solo, I expanded my sights to include peaks that had not interested the other two. I decided that the Telluride area might provide at least a short weather window on Monday if I could suffer a bad-weather Sunday to get into position. So, I was fixed on an attempt of Mt. Wilson. Success or not, I planned to carry enough to stay in place for a second window predicted on Thursday.

My parents arrived Friday night; on Saturday morning I settled them with instructions on my kid's schedules, etc. I left Pueblo at noon, bound for Telluride and an anticipated snowy Sunday. Taking advantage of the rumor that the Sheriff's deputized musher and dogsled team were out with a case of the runs (from getting a hold of some rancid "Ditto- head" meat), I decided to risk a Silver Pick Basin approach. Actually, of my five successful summer ascents on the Wilson's, four were from the days of the open Silver Pick route. I am very familiar with the route nuances of this side. I slept in the car at 9000', ¼ mile short of snow closure. This intersection was four miles short of the old, old trailhead at the Silver Pick mill and the current owners' cabin. There was no parking provided; I simply scraped the car up against the snowbank and allowed enough room for a determined truck to pass.

Setting no alarm, I planned a ¾ day to pack in the four miles to the mill and one mile beyond into the vast Silver Pick basin in search of a safe zone somewhere in the flats below Rock of Ages saddle. My snowy Sunday was instead idyllic; I hoisted a once-again too heavy pack laden with crampons, rope, tent, 5 days rations et cetera. In recognition of the more difficult than usual route, I left the dog at home and instead carried an i-pod loaded with three audio books.

My first view of Wilson Peak:

My 9:30 start preceded an uneventful six hours of 4"-6" trenching to reach my chosen campsite.

Here I learned my first important lesson of the trip. I have a different personality than Ken Nolan or Aaron Ralston; I really don't like solo winter camping. Day –trips don't bother me, but come night I get pretty bored and my depression is more pronounced. I lose concentration and start to unnecessarily focus on the dangers of the route. The mundane tasks are just that :mundane. It is far less boring to melt a gallon of water and cook dinner if you are visiting at the same time. I listened to my audio book, which helped, but its still boring. I take medications for depression and anxiety disorders; they are surely needed on this trip.

Camp was settled, water melted, and dinner eaten by 5:00PM. Since I had cell service, I called my kids and ex-wife who checked the CAIC avalanche forecast. Conditions were moderate on all aspects and elevations with pockets of considerable on SE through SW terrain. That seemed reasonable for my anticipated northern approach to Rock of Ages saddle and NE ridge route on Mt. Wilson. The steep climb to Rock of Ages saddle was a concern; I wanted to accomplish this section before sunrise. This evening's view was helpful, as I'd be reaching the saddle in the dark.

I woke Monday morning to a starless sky and light snow. The saving grace: very low winds. I left the tent at 6:00AM and, after a 1000' of shin-deep kick stepping, reached the saddle about 7:15AM. Rock of Ages should have provided a clear view of my route up the NE ridge of Mt. Wilson. This photo was actually taken 24 hours later.

However, the visibility was poor. I took no photos and was grateful that I knew the route. After dropping 1000' to the floor of Navajo Basin, I was ready to climb Wilson's NE ridge. The scramble up the ridge was a mixed bag of iced rocks, powder snow, nice kick-stepping and fun scrambling. This is a (non)view back to Rock of Ages saddle and Wilson Peak from about ½ way up the ridge.

The clouds increased and views of Gladstone's impressive SW ridge were obstructed.
Higher, the difficulties of the ridge were hidden, but the views were better.

The final 100' crux to the summit was upon me. For this, I had carried rope, harness, and slings for 7 miles and 5000'. In the end, the crux was only a little harder than it is in the summer. It was exposed, hard class 4. I did a little bit of ridge straddling and belly crawling until the final hardest move. Here, I slung a couple rocks and laced them with a 40' piece of looped webbing. I clipped into that and mantled over the final block in a slightly different fashion than in the summer. I was glad for last spring's shoulder surgery. At 1:00PM, I stepped onto the summit. The poor summit view provided no opportunity to scope the El Diente ridge or the NW Gladstone ridge. I settled for this summit view of Wilson Peak.

With nothing much to see or photograph, I started down in less than 5 minutes. On descent, I chose to attack the easternmost snowfield. Northern exposure, no evidence of current or recent avy activity, and a full day's temps well below freezing all led to the reasonable conclusion that this 2000' snowfield could be glissaded. Three minutes later, I was on the valley floor. The 800' slog to regain the Rock of Ages saddle, however, was drudgery. I'd rather listen to Obama and Clinton debate whose vast experience better qualifies them to berate the other.

By this time the continually detiorating conditions had reached whiteout level. A quick glissade down from Rock of Ages saddle found me on the valley floor and unable to locate my tracks. I wandered for ½ hour, refusing to stop to ask directions, before I had to swallow my pride and whip out the GPS. Camp, which was 0.5 miles away from the base of the saddle, was still 0.3 miles away at about a 30-degree angle off the route I was pursuing. Without the waypoint, I'd have taken quite a while to find the tent.

I was in camp at 3:15PM, a little more than two hours after leaving the summit. Three quarts of water was melted; one for dinner, one for drinks, one for the little boy who lives down the lane. When the fuel can ran out, I went to grab another and couldn't find the second can. Apparently I lost it in the snow either when I set up camp or when I was making breakfast that morning. Either way, I could not find it and was therefore down to 1 quart of water. I figured I'd have to pack out in the morning. Besides, it was snowing pretty hard and tomorrow had been predicted to be worse.

A call back to Pueblo changed my mind. The current forecast for the San Juans included prediction of bluebird weather for Tuesday and called for lowered avy conditions on the SE through SW aspects. Now, all aspects and elevations were rated moderate. Maybe I'd hang around another day after all.

A close up of my newly re-located tent

Another shot of Wilson Peak's south face as seen from Mt. Wilson's summit.

Glissade route from Mt. Wilson was the broad couloir at the center of this Mt. Wilson close-up

This view covers from near the Wilson Peak/ Gladstone saddle on the left edge of photo to just beyond Mt. Wilson's summit on the right edge of the photo.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Nice work man
03/20/2008 12:34
Good to see you got something. But isn‘t this wilson peak you were on, not mount wilson?


Looks like the Mt. to me...
03/21/2008 00:33
Awesome, still have to read parts 2 and 3 but looks like a sweet climb.


Mt. wilson
03/28/2008 16:33
Congratulations. Great report and photos
When we did Wilson Peak from Silver Pick Basin in July 2007 we ran into Mr. Nichols on the way down, an encounter which was somewhat fraught. Despite a most friendly demeanour by us, he was ”not pleased” and we left wondering if he might not sue us having taken our photos and names.
Presumably he was not in residence for your trip.


03/28/2008 18:37
gas canisters is a real pain in the ass and frustrating to say the least. What a trip, I love that view of Gladstone and its ridge from near the cabin down in the basin.

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